Think fast: Would you like a few more degrees of turnout? If your answer is a resounding “yes” (perhaps even punctuated by a grand jeté), you’re not alone. Although natural turnout is largely dictated by the anatomy of your femur and hip socket, if your turnout muscles are weak, you could be missing out on those highly coveted extra degrees of rotation.
But there’s good news: According to Shannon Casati, a former Miami City Ballet dancer who’s now a physical therapist assistant at Reavis Rehab and Wellness Center in Round Rock, Texas, strengthening the muscle groups that aid in external rotation and hip stabilization, such as the inner thighs, glutes and piriformis, can make a difference. Casati recommends these three exercises to help you access your full turnout. Try them daily after warming up, or two to three times a week when your rehearsal or performance schedule is intense.
1. In socks or ballet slippers, face the barre standing in parallel.
2. Without lifting your toes, slide both feet along the floor into first position. “This is a good way to see how much turnout you naturally have,” says Casati.
3. From there, plié and slowly straighten your knees without losing any turnout. This simple test will provide a benchmark while also strengthening your external rotators.
For the Piriformis
1. Tie a Thera-Band to the barre and loop it around your working knee. Start standing in parallel and come to retiré.
2. Pushing against the resistance of the band, slowly rotate to a turned-out retiré for 10 reps.
3. Repeat the same sequence with the standing leg turned out. Then switch sides.
For the Inner Thighs and Glutes
1. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor in parallel about hip width apart and a ball squeezed between your knees.
2. Press into a bridge, while keeping your core tight and engaging your glutes. Squeeze and hold the ball for a count of 5. Do 10 reps of squeezes.
3. With the hips still lifted, do 20 quick pulses of the ball before lowering to the ground.
If your stomach is in knots about upcoming casting or a frustrating variation, it’s time to take things outside—way outside. According to a study from Stanford University, those who took a 90-minute trek in natural surroundings, as opposed to a high-traffic urban area, had less activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain—the part that’s active when you mull over negative thoughts. If you don’t have time to fit a hike into your busy dance schedule, try carving out an afternoon to set your worries aside and stroll in a nearby lush, green park.
A dance career means long days, with short breaks often squeezed in between class and rehearsal. That makes fiber especially important, and it’s also good for your heart and digestion. Try to incorporate these high-fiber foods into your meals to avoid that empty-stomach feeling mid-class or performance. (But be sure to spread your fiber intake throughout the day, since eating too much at once can cause uncomfortable bloating.) According to the Mayo Clinic, women should have 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily and men should get 30 to 38.
A New Training Trend?
During their early training, dancers are traditionally split into class levels based on age, but new research in the Journal of Adolescence suggests this practice may not be advantageous for late-developing girls. Instead, researchers from Bristol and Bath universities, who investigated the training of young female ballet dancers in the UK, suggest bio-banding, or grouping athletes based on their physical maturity. Why? The idea is that it may lower injury risk in dancers who hit their growth spurts later and make them more prepared to handle auditions and training as it intensifies. If you have concerns about your growth rate, speak with your doctor to make sure your training isn’t placing undue stress on your body.
Stop Hot Spots
If you’re prone to developing hot spots and blisters, applying BlisterZone at the start of class may help. MedZone’s new product, a lubricated stick designed to prevent friction, is specifically made for footwear like pointe shoes, sneakers and heels.
We had a dancer put it to the test, and the results were promising. She applied it to her heels (where she tends to get blisters), and it formed a slippery, smooth barrier between her bare skin and pointe shoes. While she did have to reapply it after barre—the product either wore off with sweat or was absorbed into her shoes—she made it through class blister-free. BlisterZone is available at medzonecorp.com.